Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

Speed dating and snow: Nikki's trip to Paris

Speed dating and snow: Nikki's trip to Paris

Old Apr 7th, 2013, 02:28 PM
  #81  
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 10,694
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I don't know, once I posted my dates. suddenly you were in Sydney when I wasn't etc etc

When are you coming back Nikki?!
Toucan2 is offline  
Old Apr 7th, 2013, 02:35 PM
  #82  
 
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 10,329
Received 1 Like on 1 Post
Hah, I always think of Marcel seeing Berma in Phedre when I think of Racine ( not often, admittedly) too.
Leely2 is offline  
Old Apr 7th, 2013, 04:54 PM
  #83  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,466
Likes: 0
Received 11 Likes on 4 Posts
Toucan2, I flew home March 26, but am just getting the trip report written now. (I think you are going to the Fodor's get-together in Chicago in June. I will be there that weekend for a college reunion but may be able to slip away, depending on the time.)
Nikki is offline  
Old Apr 7th, 2013, 05:30 PM
  #84  
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 10,694
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
That would be fabulous Nikki! Would love to see you then.

Don't keep us hanging too long in the hotel lobby.
Toucan2 is offline  
Old Apr 7th, 2013, 05:53 PM
  #85  
 
Join Date: Aug 2012
Posts: 183
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Love cliff-hangers!
Makes me want more right now..

This report also makes me want to buy a ticket to France ASAP!
ditto97 is offline  
Old Apr 7th, 2013, 07:12 PM
  #86  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 12,879
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Nikki, we must have just missed each other on the Pont des Arts! My husband and I were on the way to hear the inaugural ringing of the bells, stopped to look at the locks on the railings, then decided to go back to our hotel instead. I would have recognized you; that would have been fun!

Our hotel was pretty close to Notre Dame, so we figured we'd hear them in the morning. However, we left early for our walking tour in Montmartre and missed them again.
lcuy is offline  
Old Apr 7th, 2013, 08:13 PM
  #87  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 49,560
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Really nice, Nikki!
StCirq is offline  
Old Apr 8th, 2013, 12:47 AM
  #88  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,466
Likes: 0
Received 11 Likes on 4 Posts
Lucy, that is too funny, I'm really sorry we didn't bump into each other.
Nikki is offline  
Old Apr 8th, 2013, 05:57 AM
  #89  
 
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 29,807
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
This is a wonderful TR. I've been reading it all weekend and enjoying it immensely. To echo above remarks, you really have visited interesting places. I'm jealous that you can stay awake late enough to attend concerts! I'm also jealous that you understand French well enough to attend classes. Brava all around.

More, please.
TDudette is online now  
Old Apr 8th, 2013, 06:08 AM
  #90  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,466
Likes: 0
Received 11 Likes on 4 Posts
After a couple of minutes I try calling the number posted on the hotel office door again. This time a man answers, says he tried calling me back but could not get through to my US phone number, and he is on his way. And in a minute or two he comes jogging up to us on the street. He knows my name; we are clearly the only people he is expecting to check in today. I ask if it is always this empty, he says yesterday the hotel was full. There was a judo convention. And tomorrow is Monday and the business travelers will arrive. Sunday is the slow day, no staff, but the office is usually manned, this day is unusual because of family circumstances. I feel I have gone through the looking glass. There is jam every other day: jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but never jam today.

This hotel has a history. A plaque on the wall outside says that three hundred Polish Jews were interned here during the war and then deported to Auschwitz, including a great poet, Itshak Katsnelson. There is a very interesting article about him here, with a slightly different spelling of his name: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Itzhak_Katzenelson . In a conversation with a young hotel employee the next day, we learn that the hotel was occupied by German officers and Allied prisoners of war that were being held for possible prisoner exchanges. The poet was denounced as a Jew and then deported, as were other prisoners who were identified as Jews. More prisoners were detained at the thermal baths in the town, and the Jews were almost all deported to Auschwitz and killed there.

After settling into our room, and with the help of our GPS and a map hand drawn by our hotel greeter, we set off to find the cemetery where Alan's cousin is buried. We drive over a wooded hill to the tiny village of They-sous-Montfort. We have no further instructions, only know that we are looking for the Commonwealth War Graves, the Tombes de Guerre du Commonwealth.

We see only one business, a bar-restaurant called Chez Claudine, and we are glad it is open on this late Sunday afternoon. We go in to ask if anybody can help us with directions. The woman tending bar points to the road next to the bar, which leads uphill to the site where the plane was shot down, although she doesn't know the exact spot. Then she points to the church in the village and tells us the cemetery is attached to it.

After a drink at the bar, we drive up the hill through a bucolic landscape of cultivated fields bordered by lines of trees. We drive until the road becomes a couple of ruts through the field. This feels familiar; we have taken similar drives elsewhere in France, as well as in Portugal, Denmark, Italy, California, Colorado...

We find no marker but drive around and take photos. We try to imagine the scene on that day during the war when Alan's cousin's plane was shot down. The hill overlooks the village and the church. We drive back down and park in front of the church. There is a sign on the stone wall beside the steps up to the church identifying this as the Commonwealth War Graves.

Among a few other graves in the small churchyard, there are six white tombstones, five with crosses and one with the star of David. We spend some time reading the inscriptions on each stone, trying to picture the very young men who were flying in that plane on April 28, 1944.

Chez Claudine is now closed, so we drive back to Vittel and stop in a bar for a drink. An orange cat is sitting on the bar. I ask the bartender what he knows about the spot where the plane was shot down over They-sous-Montfort. He knows about the plane, is interested to hear that Alan is the cousin of one of the men in the plane, and tells us that he does not believe there is any kind of monument marking the location.

People start coming in to the bar, they all greet us, "Bonjour, Monsieur-Dame". There is a warm and friendly atmosphere here, and when we leave, we call out an "Au revoir, Messieurs-Dames" to the group assembled at the bar.
Nikki is offline  
Old Apr 8th, 2013, 06:35 AM
  #91  
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 2,012
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
OK, Nikki. I just have to say this: You are ruining my day!! I can't stop reading this great report, and I really have to go and do other things!!
I am addicted. Help.

OK, bookmarking so I can come back and finish reading this afternoon.

Come to Boston GTG again!
taconictraveler is offline  
Old Apr 8th, 2013, 07:08 AM
  #92  
 
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 29,807
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Were you surprised that there was no marker, Nikki? Seems a shame.
TDudette is online now  
Old Apr 8th, 2013, 07:24 AM
  #93  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,466
Likes: 0
Received 11 Likes on 4 Posts
Thank you for all the continuing encouragement. This is becoming quite long, I know, but I hope to finish today, maybe tomorrow.

Alan was disappointed not to find a marker where the plane went down, but I felt we were on the hill, and that was enough. As far as we know, none of the family members who had visited over the years had been on the hill. We were the first to have been told that was the site, although others had been to the cemetery.

The cousin who is buried there has a sister living in New York. We saw her last week, after our return from France. She told us she had been to They-sous-Montfort about sixty years ago. She had visited the cemetery but not the site of the downed plane.
Nikki is offline  
Old Apr 8th, 2013, 09:47 AM
  #94  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,466
Likes: 0
Received 11 Likes on 4 Posts
After a brief stop back at the hotel, we decide to go to dinner. We do not know what time restaurants start serving, but hope it is not quite as late as in Paris. We walk to a restaurant recommended by our hotel greeter (the hotel restaurant being closed today) and arrive shortly before 7:00. The lights are on but it is not open.

Next door, however, there is a bar. It is freezing outside, and we go in to warm up. For those who are counting, this is bar number three during our evening of bar-hopping in Vittel. They are cleaning up, putting the chairs up on the tables, but there are a few older guys in a corner watching horse racing on television. You can place bets at the bar. We watch for a while, but Alan decides not to write another page in his lifelong tale of a thousand and one ways to lose money betting on horses. He says it is confusing, that for one thing the horses run backwards ("Isn't that hard on the horses?" I ask), by which he means clockwise. Instead of betting, he decides to try a Belgian beer that he ends up liking a lot.

The proprietor is sorting change in a machine. As he keeps adding more, Alan says he thinks we will have to go to a bank before getting back on the autoroute, in case we meet another unmanned toll both on the way back to Paris tomorrow. I suggest we ask the guy at the bar. We explain our situation, and we are told that there are slots in all the machines to insert bills as well as coins. Alan swears there wasn't one, but I am starting to doubt him, especially as the woman working at the bar tells us she always uses bills in those machines and describes the location of the slots where they are to be inserted. Just to be safe, though, we get twenty euros worth of coins so I can make my wallet heavy again. Now we are prepared for anything.

The restaurant next door, Le Petit Chef, has opened by the time we leave the bar, and we walk down the stairs into the basement space. We are the only people there besides the little chef himself. We start with an order of foie gras and an order of andouille with warm potato salad, both very good. Then I have sweetbreads "à l'ancienne," which turns out to mean cream sauce and rice. Alan really enjoys his veal scallops "petit chef" stuffed with ham and cheese. His dish comes with excellent sautéed potatoes.

At the end of the meal, I tell the chef we really liked the potatoes. Alan smiles and nods and says, "merveilleuse". The chef breaks into a smile and reaches out and pats Alan on the belly. I burst out laughing.

I ask if we are the only customers tonight. He shrugs. Then he tells us there were forty people at lunch.

I bet he was serving jam.
Nikki is offline  
Old Apr 8th, 2013, 10:13 AM
  #95  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,466
Likes: 0
Received 11 Likes on 4 Posts
Monday morning the hotel dining room is open for breakfast and there appear to be both staff and guests. One guest anyway, besides us. We try to shake the feeling that this is a ghost town and the hotel and restaurant proprietors are making up imaginary guests for our benefit.

The young man who checks us out of the hotel talks with us for a while about the history of the hotel and the town during the war. He does not come from this region but since moving here he has talked to as many older residents as he can about their memories of the war years. He says that in his opinion Vittel was a bit like Vichy, the capital of collaborationist France. He says that the history books he read in school are all the same, that they left out any mention of collaboration with the Nazis.

He is thirty years old. I ask if it is unusual for people of his generation to be so interested in history. He says that his parents' generation was in denial and did not want to delve into the details of the war years, but that in his generation interest is growing again.

Alan and I decide to spend a little while this morning following a scenic driving route we found in the Michelin guide to see the area before getting back on the autoroute and heading back to Paris. We start well but get turned around at a rotary, where all the options appear to lead away from the town toward which we are supposed to drive. We find ourselves driving in the opposite direction from the one we intended, and soon we are near the entrance to the autoroute. We decide to give up and get on the highway; that will be enough driving for one day.

Signs along the autoroute wish us: "Bonne route. Have a safe journey. Gutte Fahrt."

We stop at a rest area for lunch.
Nikki is offline  
Old Apr 8th, 2013, 01:10 PM
  #96  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,466
Likes: 0
Received 11 Likes on 4 Posts
As we get closer to Paris, we debate whether to get gas at a rest stop, drive past it, and immediately regret our decision. Our car is rented from Hertz, which will charge twice the going rate for gas and add a fifteen euro service fee if we do not return the car with a full tank. Soon after this, the GPS directs us off the autoroute onto a local road. The toll booth is manned, so our anxieties about paying by cash were for nought, and I now have a wallet full of change.

We find ourselves on a road that passes through some suburban towns, but miles go by with no gas station in sight. We pass multiple garages, places for a quick oil change, Midas mufflers, but no gas. It's mystifying. Eventually we do find a gas station and fill the tank with a feeling of relief. There is a gate to keep cars from driving out of the station without paying, and we wonder how we will get past it, but it is evidently controlled by someone working in the station, and it opens for us.

The GPS puts us back on the highway shortly after this. We are frequently annoyed by its tendency to choose a route based on mileage that may take us through traffic-clogged local streets, but in this instance it has served us well. It has anticipated our need for gas, put us on a road to get some, and returned us to the proper route to Paris, or so I would like to think.

After returning the car, we go back to our apartment, walk around the neighborhood, make a last visit to the bakery, sit on a bench next to the marina, eat a chocolate éclair. I am ready to go home. I have had a great time, but my feet are shot, I am ready for some down time, I don't need that many more great meals, I've had enough chocolate for the time being. But there is one more great meal ahead.

Abby and her husband are spending a couple of nights at the end of their vacation at the chef-owned Hotel Relais Saint Germain. This hotel is home to the restaurant Le Comptoir du Relais, a small room that is almost impossible to reserve for dinner unless you are staying at the hotel. Abby has reservations for us to join her, her husband and another guest for dinner tonight.

There is a set menu for sixty euros with no choice (unless you want to substitute lobster penne and bisque for an extra thirty euros!). Our first course is green asparagus from the Alpilles, both cooked and raw, with a poached egg and herring caviar. I go outside my comfort zone to eat this, as I don't usually like egg in this form, but it is creamy, foamy, and appealingly punctuated by salty bits of caviar, unlike anything I have ever had before. Then there is spelt risotto with escargots in parsley sauce with parmesan mousse. This is followed by saddle of lamb from the Pyrenees with puréed chick peas in cumin and carrot confit with saffron. The thing that really gets me excited though is the cheese course: a huge platter of cheese from the Pyrenees with jars of jam and accompaniments. Dessert is a sandwich of guanaja chocolate with croustillant maïs (something crispy made of corn?), fleur de sel, and ice cream made with lait ribot (which is fermented milk made from buttermilk, if I understand correctly).

OK, we can go home now.
Nikki is offline  
Old Apr 8th, 2013, 01:26 PM
  #97  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,466
Likes: 0
Received 11 Likes on 4 Posts
Tuesday we take a shuttle service to the airport. I have ordered it on line from the website www.isprestige.com . We hit substantial traffic due to an accident. We have left plenty of time before our departure, but the driver has to pick up a party at the airport and he will be late. He makes several frantic calls to other drivers, finds none available, finally reaches the party at the airport and tells them he will be there shortly.

The driver asks if we mind picking this party up before getting to our terminal, as theirs is before ours. Fine with us. He seems grateful. It is an English family with a little girl going to Disneyland. They are living in Spain, which the father tells me is the California of Europe.

We check our bags, go through security fairly quickly, and have lunch in the airport. We browse through some of the airport shops, I buy some things I probably should have looked for at less expensive venues in Paris (foie gras, fleur de sel, a box of macarons for my mother). We meet Abby and her husband, who are on the same flight but have been upgraded.

The flight is smooth, but at some point after the meal service there is an announcement requesting whether there is a doctor on board. The young woman sitting next to me goes forward but returns. She is a dermatologist; she has been trumped by a gastroenterologist. Some time later there is an announcement that snack service has been cancelled because there is a passenger requiring all the crew's attention. When we land, there is an announcement that everybody should stay on board until the passenger has been taken off the plane.

The captain announces that the passenger was drunk, and that the police will be taking him. Once that has been arranged, we go smoothly through the airport, our bags are all there, and we retrieve our car from the economy parking lot. When Alan parked there last week, he got the last spot, up on the roof, with several inches of snow on the ground. Now the roof is practically empty, both of cars and snow.

Hoping for spring, we drive back home.
Nikki is offline  
Old Apr 8th, 2013, 01:28 PM
  #98  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,466
Likes: 0
Received 11 Likes on 4 Posts
Photos from this trip can be found here:

http://nikkiparismarch2013.shutterfl...%3dSHARE3SXXXX
Nikki is offline  
Old Apr 8th, 2013, 01:44 PM
  #99  
 
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 29,807
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Again, wonderful. Paris in the snow shots so pretty.

Where to next, Nikki?
TDudette is online now  
Old Apr 8th, 2013, 02:35 PM
  #100  
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 10,694
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
A wonderful report, I'm sad to see it end.

Quite a different view of Paris than last year in March, but I think it is great to see cities and places in different seasonal wardrobes.
Toucan2 is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Manage Preferences Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Your Privacy Choices -